Before seeking subjects for my final project, I gathered some of my friends to do a gender bending photo shoot all of whom have alternative sexualities and identities. I echoed the visual aesthetics seen in Bettina Von Zwehl’s constructed portraits as well as Bettina Rheims mysterious series, ” Gender Studies”. I used a white backdrop and had my subjects wear white to heighten that sense of ambiguity which I knew from the beginning was what I wanted to achieve. I never actually got round to doing anything with these images but the creative process was a valid one and helped me make some drastic decisions which helped form what my final project has become today. I noted on the shooting experience:
Lessons learnt: use a high F stop! Some of the images were not as sharp as I would have hoped due to a low F stop so in future I will ensure before I get snappy happy that my settings are all set! I manage to salvage a few through post-editing but that shouldn’t have been necessary. I used the white studio, emulating the images created by Bailey and Rheims. However, I’ve had a change of heart. I feel my subjects would have been more striking if I had used a slightly darker background. The images where you can see a crease in the background I feel work better. As a result I hope to use a grey backdrop on my next shoots. Whilst I love the lightness and subtlety of Bettina Rhiems portraits of her gender bending beauties, I feel having a slightly more moody angle could be interesting. We’ll see.
And so from this experimentation, I decided I would shoot my subjects on a grey background to denote the idea of sex and gender being a grey area, not black or white. This would help denote the sense of ambiguity I craved. I also thought that I should not restrict my subjects to wearing only white. I still want them to appear individual and unique whilst accessories and props can help signal certain gender stereotypes, or maybe even mock them. Overall, the experience was helpful and I may get round to using these images in some way.
To start bringing my topic to visual matter I met with one of my subjects, *Rachel, who is the partner to one of my mother’s close friends. We have spoken over the phone and face to face and have met numerous times before. However, taking into consideration the thoughts and needs of my subjects first and foremost, Rachel said that she does not want her voice to heard. Rachel feels she still sounds quite masculine and is still working on ‘rounding’ her voice. Visually Rachel was happy for me to record her and is happy for me to continue in working with her to create photos and other pieces throughout this project.
I travelled to Rachel’s home and decided to focus on her doing her make-up. Upon reflection I wish I would have documented her home, pets and personal belongings but this is something I can explore another time. I decided to focus on make-application, as this is a part of nearly every woman’s daily routine. It reinforces ideas surrounding how we want to be perceived by others which every female and male can relate to. I myself can’t remember the last time I went out without foundation! This in itself reminds me that every female whether biological or transsexual, we all present ourselves in a way we want to be seen by others.
At first we were going to shoot the make-up routine in Rachel’s bedroom but she decided against it. I loved her room and wanted to get images of her in her grand dressing table mirror, but the room had little light, so I agreed. Instead, we did the shoot in her bathroom, which was lovely and bright. When doing each step of the make-up, I would ask Rachel to either slow down or pause. I think if I were to do it again, I would just document the routine as it happens so it would appear more natural. I also recorded her ripping up magazines, reflecting her love for fashion, which is something my other subject also enjoys.
Taking into consideration my final piece I began to play around with the footage in Premiere to make a short sequence but felt it didn’t work. I needed more context and insight into the character instead of just their make up routine. But it was something I could progress forward from. It also reminded me of the importance of collaborating with someone and to have him or her to be more explicit in how they want to be perceived. As I’ve spoke to my subjects more and more it seems their just on a journey to find happiness, just like everyone else.
*Have used different name to protect identity